Comedy vs Humor


“Comedy is not king with regard to commercials. Humor is. There’s a critical difference. The objective of comedy is to amuse. If you look back to the word roots of amuse, you’ll get “to not think”. Advertisers want people to remember their product or service. How many times have you seen a commercial which is so funny you can’t remember the product or service?

Now, the objective of humor is to emotionally connect the audience or listener with an experience. When a message is connected with emotion, the memory recall of the message goes way up. Humor is the glue between message and memory. Making a line or word in the commercial funnier can adversely affect the commercial.”

          –From a 2009 VoiceOverExperts podcast on voiceover acting:

That doesn’t mean humor isn’t funny, or that anything emotional is humor. That would be silly. It means Ren and Stimpy is comedy, and Woody Allen is humor. This may be a made-up distinction, but I like it.

In most cartoons, comedy is king, and they take a very different approach to narrative. Outrageous coincidences, physical impossibilities, unbelievable stupidities, flat contradictions and discontinuties with previous shows — pretty much anything — are permissible if they are funny. I like funny, but you can’t make viewers care about the characters when you go to that level, because then the viewers know that they aren’t real, and they live in a world where nothing can harm them for long, and nothing on the screen really happens. I remember how the light saber duel between Yoda and Count Dooku killed whatever interest I had left in the Star Wars prequels. I don’t know if it was supposed to be funny, but the theater audience laughed all the way through it. After that, it was no longer a universe I could take seriously.

Consider this scene: Character-A is concerned about his masculinity. He wanders out into the waters, and just happens to run into a manticore who will teach him how to be manly. That sets the entire story within a frame of “This can’t happen.” The outrageous coincidence isn’t itself comical, but the writers will allow it only because they were already within a comic framework where it didn’t matter. When a colony of gnomes wants to marry some human girl, you don’t ask, “Are there any female gnomes? Do gnomes gnormally (see what I did there?) reproduce through interspecies breeding? What will their offspring look like?”, because you know the writers didn’t think about it and those answers don’t even exist in the story world. I will never care deeply about characters in such a framework.


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